Tag: hugh o’conor


Botched (2007)
★ / ★★★★

Ritchie (Stephen Dorff), along with two colleagues, successfully stole a suitcase of diamonds from an auction in France. But on the way to the meet their boss, the trio get into a car accident. Ritchie survives and tries to escape before the police arrive at the scene, but a car hits him from the side which sends the suitcase flying. Diamonds are all over the pavement. Mr. Groznyi (Sean Pertwee) is not happy.

Still, Ritchie is like a son to him so he gives him another chance. His new assignment is to purloin an artifact from a penthouse in Russia with the help of Peter (Jamie Foreman) and Yuri (Russell Smith). Although they are able to obtain the object, problems arise on the way down via elevator. Before they know it, there are ten of them in there. Fearing that security is aware of their presence, all of them get off at a floor that is currently under construction. There is a madman on the loose.

“Botched,” directed by Kit Ryan, is yet another example of how difficult it is to make a successful horror-comedy. Its look is sleek and its pacing is kinetic before Ritchie and company reach the mysterious floor. However, once they get there, the characters have nothing much to do other than call each other names. The experience is very much like being stuck in a room with not very interesting kids who hear something “funny” on television and they just have to try saying it in real life. It got exasperating quite quickly and I wondered what else it had to offer.

The group of ten is divided into three. Other than Ritchie and his two companions, there are three religious zealots (Bronagh Gallagher, Norma Sheahan, Gene Roonet), and four others who work for a company with various levels of expertise (Jaime Murray, Hugh O’Conor, Geoff Bell, Zak Maguire). Instead of the screenplay, written by Raymond Friel, Derek Boyle and Eamon Friel, pursuing creative ways for the characters to extricate themselves from an increasingly dangerous predicament, they are treated as wooden punchlines. Once a person’s quirk is milked to the ground, it is certain that he or she is going to die next. As a result, there is a drought of suspense. We wait passively for the next kill.

The floor that the characters are on is supposed to be special yet the movie fails to provide us a precise mental image of the place. In most buildings, there is usually a map for each floor. Why is this floor any different especially since it is under construction? While purposefully labyrinthine and filled with booby traps, it might have been nice if we were given the chance to orient ourselves. So if a character happens to stop or pass by a certain spot, we can recognize that a trap is somewhere near. In order words, it could have been a way for us to feel like we were a part of the group.

We do not care about any of the people being maimed and murdered. While knowing their respective backgrounds is unnecessary because there are too many of them, we might have felt a bit of connection with them if they were funnier or smarter. For instance, there comes a point where the remaining survivors enter a room full of medieval weapons. Instead of ransacking the place for the sake of self-defense, they just admire the decorations.

The Young Poisoner’s Handbook

The Young Poisoner’s Handbook (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★

Graham (Hugh O’Conor) has a fascination for chemistry because understanding the subject reveals every day mysteries that most people take for granted. But his passion is of no value in his family. He lives with his father (Roger Lloyd-Pack), stepmother (Ruth Sheen), and sister (Charlotte Coleman), all of whom consider Graham a pest who messes around with their belongings. In order to become a great scientist, Graham figures he needs an experiment that will set him apart from the rest. This plan involves introducing poison to the greatest number of people in a public place–a mass murder. But first, he needs a guinea pig: his stepmother.

“The Young Poisoner’s Handbook,” written by Jeff Rawle and Benjamin Ross, deals with its grim subject with confident joviality. What I loved about it is its consistency in challenging us to laugh, albeit uncomfortably, at the many afflictions that Graham causes to everyone around him yet keeping in mind that there is a sadness and tragedy in his genius.

His first poison of choice is antimony sulfide. It is a good poison because its symptoms are typical. Doctors often mistake its effects for treatable intestinal disorders so they assure the sick persons’ families that their loved ones’ condition is nothing to worry about. Graham’s stepmother is far from pleasant with her stepson so when she is made to suffer through vomiting and having irritable bowel syndrome, the scenes are very amusing. It does not come off cruel because the material focuses on what makes the young scientist tick through his actions, its repercussions, and his responses; his delusions of grandeur and intellectual superiority; and what he is willing to do or sacrifice in order to achieve his goals.

Graham may be lacking in conscience but no can deny that he is exemplary in observing, taking notes, and noticing trends. As he observes others, we observe him. Those beady eyes command an electric alacrity when he notices that his experiment is working. Meanwhile, our eyes widen from the increasingly horrific implications of his experiments.

Then Graham moves on to using thallium, commonly used to kill insects and rats. It is an even better poison than antimony sulfide because its effects vary depending on the person. But one thing people infected with thallium have in common is eventual alopecia. In charge of delivering medicine to his unsuspecting stepmother, he sprinkles just enough to push her into a catatonic state. Despite the dark comedy, we are aware of his nature.

The next third of the film introduces the question of whether Graham, after several tests indicates that he is a psychotic, can be rehabilitated. During his time in the mental hospital, he manipulates people to gain freedom. Interestingly, for him, freedom does not necessarily mean a chance to start over like most people who genuinely feel bad about the things they have done. Graham has an obsession and he needs to scratch an itch. His purpose is not to reconnect, make amends, or attempt to lead a normal life. In his words, he has to make thallium “tasteless, orderless, and untraceable.”

Directed by Benjamin Ross, “The Young Poisoner’s Handbook” is macabre, clever, twisted, some would label it “sick,” and based on a true story. And I watched spellbound.